My oldest friend visited us in London last weekend with his two children. We met at primary school when we were eight or so and I'd just moved into the town. His son, who's eleven, goes to a school that's a rival to our old one and enquiries about how he was getting on inevitably led on to reminiscences.
Our old school really was a quite magical place. It was housed in a pair of large Victorian buildings constructed and tiled with Cotswold stone. At the back were gardens threaded with little brooks and incorporating an open air theatre whose stage was hedged around by beeches. In the summer, we'd have stories read to us whilst we sat crossed-legged on soft, cropped lawns shaded by pussy willows and silver birches. Out there the teacher's voice always seemed quiet but clear, intimate but distant. I remember the fragrance of the roses, the drifting pollen, the warm touch of the sun. It wasn't difficult to lose yourself in those stories.
Beyond these gardens was a meadow, where we played football in the winter and rounders in the summer. In the summer term, if it had been warm and dry for a week or so, the dinner ladies - who were also our playground monitors - would pronounce the meadow open. You'd hear the news first by incredulous rumour and then have it confirmed by a clamour that echoed around the parched and dusty playground: a fluting chant of 'mea-dow, mea-dow, mea-dow' would drown out the dinner ladies' cries for calm and dozens of children would harmlessly cram themselves into a narrow passage that led from the front of the school to the path that ran alongside the garden and on to the blessed meadow.
Once there we would run around like skittish ponies let out to summer pasture, eventually collapsing exhausted, pausing awhile to shyly watch the girls make daisy-chains.
It really was that wonderful so I make no apologies for my lyricism (not that my wife isn't a bit tired of my occasional raptures on the subject). Anyway, in the course of telling each other how magnificent and interesting it all was I was reminded that one of my schoolday haunts still appears as a venue in my dreams. But, strangely, it isn't one of the places that are most memorable for me in my waking life.
The place in question sits in a handsome, Georgian, Cotswold-stone building (here's the Google Street View) whose purpose is social, an assembly room as the Georgians called such places. We used it for school lunches and, on occasion, plays, carol services and important school assemblies.
But it's not the main hall that I occasionally revisit in my dreams, it's a room that runs along the back of the hall, the other side of a kitchen area. This ancillary space was used by a playgroup, to give old folk their lunches and no doubt for other useful things.
So far, so unmemorable. And I'm afraid to say that nothing much happens in this space in my dreams: it holds no great fears. So why on earth is it stuck there?
It's taken me a while to work it out. A use that I'd overlooked was that of changing area for the school nativity play, which would be put on in the hall for the delight of parents. I hated being on public display (still dislike it) and I know that one year, despite my best efforts, I played one of the Three Kings.
I'm pretty sure the pre-performance nerves, the adrenalin rushing round my young body, had some sort of photographic effect on my surroundings, burning them into my subconscious, to be wheeled out now and again as a bland backdrop to some anxiety-fed dream. Looking back, I could have done worse.